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“Marijuana Is a Vegetable” and Belongs in the Farmers’ Market: Pot VC

Daily Ticker

Colorado became the second state to legalize recreational marijuana last November and if one Colorado resident has his way, the plant will soon be sold at the Boulder County Farmers’ Markets, one of the largest farmers’ markets in the state. Justin Hartfield, a marijuana venture capitalist and CEO of WeedMaps, has petitioned Boulder’s mayor, local officials and organizers of the farmers’ market to include a marijuana stand next to the heirloom tomato and corn booths. Hartfield and his business partners are in the process of drafting a zoning ordinance for the city to consider.

“Marijuana is a vegetable, just like every other vegetable being sold on the Sunday markets in Boulder,” Hartfield tells The Daily Ticker. “We think the people of Boulder would want it there.”

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Boulder officials have dismissed Hartfield’s push as a publicity stunt. According to Patrick von Keyserling, director of communications for the City of Boulder, no “farmers have made a request or application to sell marijuana at the farmers’ market. It is illegal to operate retail marijuana sales without both a state and a city license. City staff is currently recommending that recreational marijuana conversion applications not be taken until June 1, 2014 by Boulder, so it would be illegal for a business to conduct business in this manner at this time in any event.”

The New York Times reports that more than 30 Colorado cities and towns have banned retail marijuana sales outright and 25 have passed moratoriums. Yet Hartfield says he remains optimistic that his plan will succeed, even if it could take months to implement.

“What we want to do is start the conversation now,” he explains. “We want to get people and politicians ready for this idea that marijuana is a plant just like every other plant and should be treated the same in Colorado.”

Seattle's NW Cannabis Market allows 20 to 30 marijuana growers to sell medical marijuana to customers. Even as more Americans warm up to the idea of legalizing marijuana – 52% of Americans support decriminalizing it, up 11 percentage points from 2010, according to a March 2013 Pew Research Center poll – the federal government has shown little eagerness to relax its anti-pot policy. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance under the 1970 Controlled Substance Act.

The Medical Marijuana Business Daily estimates that commercial medical marijuana sales average $1.5 billion per year. But that number could jump to $6 billion by 2016. Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron told Reuters that annual marijuana sales – both on the black market and in 18 states that allow the drug as medicine – add up to $20 billion nationally.

Related: High Returns? Private Investors Funding Marijuana Revolution

Hartfield says federal law presents a major challenge to the marijuana industry but the future for marijuana is “really great.”

“Ancillary businesses are growing – software, hardware, gadget, vaporizers – and in eight or 10 years we’re going to be looking at federally legalized marijuana,” he notes. His own company WeedMaps is an online community that connects medical marijuana patients with other patients to discuss and review local dispensaries, medical doctors and delivery services.

Hartfield says he’s received tons of support in his quest to bring locally-grown weed to farmers’ markets. His proposal not only fits in with Boulder’s “history of an organic farmers’ market” but it would also cut out the middle-man, “benefitting both the end users and the farmers,” he argues.

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